Non-Violence As Means Of Seeking Redress: The Ogoni Story
By MIKE MBONYE
Mr Ledum Mitee, a lawyer, is the President of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), the apex organisation of the Ogoni people residing in the south-eastern part of Rivers State.
MOSOP was founded in 1990 to promote democratic awareness, protect the environment of the Ogoni people, promote socio-economic and physical development of the region, protect cultural rights and practices of the Ogonis, while seeking appropriate rights of self-determination for the ethnic group.
Mitee is an apostle of non-violence as a means of seeking redress and he has, on several occasions, reiterated the need to promote peace while campaigning for individual or communal rights and causes.
“Twenty years after the Ogoni Bill of Rights was launched, 15 years after the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and others, it is now becoming recognised by several people, including those who condemned our peaceful methods, that the non-violence option is the preferred option to seek redress,’’ he said.
On November 10, the Ogonis commemorated the 15th anniversary of the hanging of their leader, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight others by the military regime of Gen. Sani Abacha.
Saro-Wiwa had launched the Ogoni Bill of Rights 20 years ago, demanding a greater share of the country’s oil wealth and compensation for the degradation which the Ogoni people had suffered for many years as a result of oil drilling activities in their domain.
As the people marked the anniversary of the execution of Ken Saro Wiwa and other activists, analysts are quick to point out that the non-violence approach adopted by the Ogonis for their struggle has been rewarding.
The success of the Ogonis’ peaceful method of staging protests is even attested to by Mitee.
His words: “Even though, we still do not have a government that rewards non-violence but there are now indications that it is becoming accepted.
“We were isolated in the past as only those who were championing the non-violence option and I believe that the world and in fact, this region, are gradually coming to terms that our approach was the preferred option.
“This is one of the greatest successes of the struggle that we have recorded,’’ Mitee said.
Observers believe that the peaceful method employed by the Ogonis to press for their rights should be adopted by the Niger Delta militants instead of engaging in armed struggle.
Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, had in 2009 at a literary festival in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, urged the youths of the Niger Delta area to use their intellectual prowess to sustain the campaign for their rights.
The Nobel Laureate’s visit to Bayelsa then coincided with resumed hostilities between security agencies and militant youths, who were also launching sporadic attacks on oil companies’ facilities.
Soyinka said that using the intellectual weapon to fight would achieve better results because arguments would be properly marshaled and presented by the activists under a peaceful atmosphere.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Udengs Eradiri, the former Secretary-General of Ijaw Youths Council, noted that nothing much had been achieved in the Niger Delta area after many years of armed struggle.
“I have decided to contest for the Yenagoa/Opokuma seat in the House of Representatives next year. I believe that if I am elected, I will be in a better position to work with other ‘Niger Deltans’ and fellow lawmakers to ensure that the needs of our people are met,’’ he said.
On violence as a tool of fighting for people’s rights, Eradiri stressed that the use of violence, regardless of the reasons behind it, would always be counterproductive.
“I believe that if we adopt a non-violence approach, similar to that of the Ogonis; we will still be able to make our case. The best option for now is for us to get into the system and be part of the decision-making process.
“If I am elected, I will promote the education of youths in my area to boost the manpower capacity and human resource base of our area.
With more educated people on board, we will be better placed to use the non-violence approach in our campaign for our rights in the Niger Delta,’’ Eradiri said.
Mr Anyakwee Nsirimovu, the Executive Director of Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, a Port Harcourt-based NGO, is a staunch advocate of the non-violence approach to grievance redress issues.
He stressed that the non-violence approach was the best option to use when seeking redress or fighting for a cause.
“I believe strongly in the peaceful approach of legendary Indian leader Mahatma Ghandi to tackling issues. If at all you decide to use violence, you will still come back to the negotiating table after the violence.
“Ogoni people paid the supreme sacrifice for fighting for their rights in a peaceful way and the approach partly led to the killing of Saro Wiwa and others.
“In spite of their intimidation, neglect and harassment, the Ogonis remained steadfast in employing the non-violence approach in their struggle,’’ he said
Nsirimovu urged the militant youths of the Niger Delta region to emulate the Ogoni style in their crusade to get a fair share of the resources produced in their area, adding that the non-violence approach remained the best option available to them.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mitee stressed that the peaceful approach to tackling issues would certainly produce the best results.
“The non-violence option always triumphs in the end. Today, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) has left Ogoniland. We did not carry guns; we did not carry knives and cudgels in spite of the fact that some 2,000 Ogonis were killed by the military in the course of the struggle.
“There was no report of any attack on soldiers who besieged Ogoniland.
However, that was not a sign of weakness; we consciously opted for the non-violence approach and by that, the Ogoni campaign remains one of the most recognised struggles in the whole world,’’ Mitee said.
The MOSOP leader stressed that the only worthwhile tribute which the Niger Delta people could pay to the memory of Saro-Wiwa and other martyrs who died in the struggle was to adopt diplomacy and peaceful methods of pressing for their demands.
Mitee is not the only one who belongs to that school of thought, as many analysts believe that the non-violence approach of the Ogoni struggle should be emulated by the people of the Niger Delta area and other Nigerians while fighting for their causes.
The analysts argue that violent struggles will only bring about sorrow, tears and blood for the people under an atmosphere of chaos, while dialogue will in the end be used to settle the people’s differences and press for their rights.